>As the dust is settling from the year’s last major, and as we head into the first playoff weekend I think it’s approprate to take a quick look back. Another thing that’s happened is that the whining and moaning about the outcome of the majors has started to die down. Oh, what story lines we had going this year. What tremendous commentary our esteemed golf writers could have composed. Instead they stand there with their mouths open, looking every bit as incredulous as Jim Mora (and I paraphrase):
“Research? Are you kidding me? Research?”
“Kenny choked” they all said, which isn’t fair to him nor to the eventual winner. The ever-popular Kenny Perry led by two shots with two holes to go, and for some reason he starts playing conservatively when he’s been hitting the snot out of the ball all day. Phil and Tiger played together, 7 shots off the lead at the start of the day, and made such a run that they came within one stroke of the lead at one point. The quiet and steady Chad Campbell played the last seven holes in -3 for a strong 69.
But don’t take anything away from Angel Cabrera, the hard-hitting, chain-smoking, no-hablo-ingles Argie with a smile as wide as the Parana River. He went two under in the last five holes to put pressure on the leaders and to position himself to get to play for the championship. And once he was in the playoffs he was locked in. His second shot into 10, given the pressure and the circumstances, was as good an approach as we’ve seen all year.
In the end the Augusta cronies had to scurry to dust off the 52-Long jacket that’s been sitting in the closet since 1982.
Phil Mickelson’s lovefest with NY reached a new zenith as he returned to the tour after taking time off to be with his cancer-stricken wife. Both he and Tiger were in contention, and that always adds an edge to a major. Whereas all the focus was on the course leading into the tournament, as play started it was all about the weather. As it all turned out, they were probably lucky to get the tournament done in the five days it took to finish.
Then we had the completely unexpected yet highly talented players that rose to the surface like some obscure fact in a Pop-up Video. David Duval? Ricky Barnes? What year is this?
Lucas Glover shared the big lead with Barnes going into Sunday, and they both faltered early as they combined to go eight over par on the front nine holes. Glover turned out to be the steadier of the two as he settled down and played the back nine in even par to hold off the charges from the pack.
The most memorable shot of the tournament may have come from Hunter Mahan on 16. He was just a few strokes behind the lead and hit a perfect shot into the green. It was so perfect that it hit the flagstick hard and bounced off the green, where he was unable to get up and down to even save par. A two-shot swing, and he was out of the running.
I’m fifteen years younger than Tom Watson, and I can’t even fathom playing golf for four straight days. Much less doing it on a world class course under British Open conditions. Yet there was Tom, looking every bit like the aging love child of Alfred E Neuman and David Letterman, holding the lead after day two and day three, and continuing throughout Sunday’s play.
By then Tiger was already home in Florida, having missed only his second major cut as a professional. During a particularly rough stretch on Friday his best swings came when he slammed the club into his bag after yet another errant shot.
The tall and twittering Stewart Cink shot a brilliant 66 on Thursday, and hung in there with near-par rounds on Friday and Saturday. He played early on Sunday, and posted -2 to take the clubhouse lead with several groups left to play.
Everybody else fell off and it came down to Tom Watson making par on 18 to beat Cink’s score. Three indifferent strokes left him a ten footer for par, and what followed can only be described as possibly the worst putt in Tom Watson’s career. He left the clinching putt not only short, but also veering off to the right by a good foot off the line.
The four-hole playoff between Cink and Watson turned into a cake-walk for the kelly-clad Stewart, as he beat Tom by six strokes over the four holes to claim the claret jug.
There were more surprises near the top of the leaderboard in this tournament, but this time the names were huge and the element of surprise was only due to the fact that they’d been struggling for most of the year. Three-time major winners Els, Singh, and Harrington were all oh-fer 2009. They were all chasing Tiger, who opened with a 67 and stayed in the lead through days two and three.
On Sunday Tiger led by two, and was paired with YE Yang, the smiling Korean who had beaten Woods three years ago in Asia. Of all the big names on the board, few people gave Yang a real shot at the championship, even in the unlikely scenario that Tiger would let the peloton catch up to him. Yet by the time they got to the back nine it was a true two-player race, mano a mano, as everybody else who were close fell away.
Yang took the lead with a brilliant chip-in for eagle on 14, and he was able to avoid mistakes every bit as effectively as Tiger avoided making putts to close the gap.
Coming to 18 Yang was still only up by a shot, and the tournament was still very much in the balance. That was until Yang’s second shot, a towering 3-hybrid over trees and bunkers that landed 12 feet from the hole. Tiger missed the green and YE made the putt for a “comfortable” three shot victory.